The First World War had a profound influence upon British society, for quite simply it swept away a whole world and created a new one. Things would never be quite the same and the Edwardian epoch became a vision of the distant past as though a great chasm separated 1918 from 1914. This war was in fact the greatest watershed of modern British history. However, the effects of total war in the twentieth century have been as much concerned with accelerating as with diverting the course of social policy. In very significant ways the stress of fighting the First World War accentuated developments which were already discernible in the prewar years. The crucial developments in the much-expanded role of the state paralleled themes of the Edwardian age in two important respects. First, the greatest single stimulus to the enlargement of the function of the state was national defence. As we shall see, the quest for national security in the war effort caused the state to traverse fields very remote from military strategy. This was in effect a massive extension of the whole national efficiency movement of the early years of the century. Then, prospective fears for national efficiency motivated much pre-war social policy; now, the practical needs of self-defence dictated a greater amount of state intervention, what the Manchester Guardian called ‘War Socialism’.
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Notes and References
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